How do you get two smartphones to talk to each other? That’s not a trick question. Try sharing your vacation photos with your best friend, or handing off an important business document. The clumsy process of moving files between phones ought to be child’s play, but isn’t.
Now it may soon be, thanks to some recent moves by Google Inc. and archrival Apple Inc.
Most of us do phone-to-phone sharing the hard way. IPhones, as well as smartphones running Google’s Android operating system, give you the option to mail files to your friends, or share them through social media networks like Facebook. You can also join cloud storage services like Dropbox and Microsoft Corp.’s SkyDrive. Then you can upload your files to one of these services and send a link to your friends, so they can download a copy.
But Google just spent something like $30 million to acquire Bump, a start-up company with a software app that sharply simplifies the process. Load Bump onto your phone and you can move files to another phone by simply tapping the two devices together.
Meanwhile Apple is rolling out iOS 7, the latest update for the software that drives iPhones and iPads. One new feature, AirDrop, is the mobile version of a wireless file transfer system that came to Apple’s Mac computers in 2011. AirDrop identifies nearby Apple devices, so users can easily send copies of photos or other documents.
AirDrop works by creating a temporary network between iOS devices, using either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth wireless networking. The “share” button in the new software lets you single out a particular nearby iGadget and transmit your data with a simple tap. It’s a big step forward for iPhones; up to now you have needed to purchase a separate app for this feature, which isn’t built into earlier versions of iOS.
But it’s old news for Android users. Their phones have long been able to swap files via Bluetooth. You just pair up your phone with that of your friend. Then open the file, touch the “share” icon, select the Bluetooth option, and send the file to your buddy.
Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 devices and BlackBerry phones also support file swapping via Bluetooth.
If that’s too much work, many Android phones also have NFC or “near-field communications.” That’s a chip that comes to life when it’s in range of another NFC device. Phones with NFC and newer versions of Android software can swap files using a feature called Android Beam. Just touch one phone to the other, back to back. Then the sender taps his screen to send the file. Android Beam creates a temporary Bluetooth connection between the phones, and swaps the file.
Bluetooth was never designed for moving large files. So Samsung Corp.’s Galaxy S III and S 4 employ an even slicker system called S Beam, which uses Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth. If both phones are Samsungs with S Beam, wireless file transfers will happen much faster.
None of these gimmicks work with iPhones because they don’t use NFC chips. But every iPhone does contain an accelerometer. That’s the motion-detection chip that rotates the image on the screen when you hold the phone sideways. That’s what Bump uses to transfer files between iPhones, and Androids, for that matter.
With the free Bump app loaded on each device, one user can transfer files to another simply by tapping the two phones together; the data moves painlessly and almost instantly. And Bump is excellent for sharing between iPhones and Android; the software doesn’t care.
Bump also doesn’t care whether the other device is a PC or laptop. Just direct the computer’s browser to a website called bu.mp and tap your Bump-equipped phone against the computer’s spacebar. Your files are uploaded from the phone to Bump’s remote server; click a download link and they will be compressed and transferred to the PC.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 82 percent of cellphone owners take photos with their phones, but only 34 percent share those photos with others, maybe because it’s too much work. But not any more.